Great Walk: Abel Tasman Coast

February 6, 2018

START: Marahau Trailhead @ 0915
FINISH: Bark Bay Hut @ 1715
DISTANCE: 24 + 1 + 1 km
CUMULATIVE: 208 km

Took the shuttle out of Nelson at 0745 and arrived at the trailhead around 0900. Did a little last minute prep and hit the trail about fifteen minutes later.

Stopped near Tinline Camp to use the WC, but found it infested with hornets, an all too common experience of the trek. They’re everywhere out here. And they were even flying up out of the poo pit. “Oh, hell no. I can wait,” I thought and walked on. Hit the next opportunity about 3 k’s later. Still hornets, but not as many, and they weren’t flying out of the commode. “Good enough,” I shrugged and did my business.

Ok, enough about my poo. The trek is beautiful. It’s obvious why it’s the most visited national park in the whole country. They’re not exaggerating those golden beaches and emerald waters. Amazing. The route stays mid-slope winding in and out of drainages as it traces the Tasman coast north. Easy walking on packed down dirt tread - think city sidewalk - that is generally characterized by mellow undulating climbs and descents. The growth is thick and often obstructs what would otherwise be wide open views down the coast, but the hanging foliage made for some cool shots, and the dark greens contrasted nicely with the vibrant turquoise of the Tasman Sea.

I explored a number of side trips today, beaches and overlooks, most close and some a bit of a walk. All very cool, and nearly all quite crowded. My favorite among these was the side trip to Cleopatra’s Pool. I arrived and found a few dozen folks sitting around the waters edge. No one was swimming despite the sun bearing down. That was odd, I thought, especially since there is a cool natural moss-lined rock water slide that drops right into the pool. I had lunch and observed for about a half hour, during which time I didn’t see a single person ride it. They were all just sitting around awkwardly looking at it, almost like they wanted to ride but didn’t wanna be the first. I could understand. I felt anxious to think about being the first, and having an audience looking on. The side trip is like 10 minutes off the main trail, so it wasn’t like I’d come a long way not to get in. It was more like: why on earth wouldn’t I get in? So I finished lunch and went for a ride on the slide, then another, and another. It was wicked-fun and refreshing, an awesome break from the hot sun.

That little slide hardly hurt at all and was well-worth the minor bangs and scrapes. There is a pool at the base of a small waterfall that feeds into the top of the slide. Surprisingly, that pool is about shoulder deep. Then, again surprisingly, there is a high lip to get over before dropping into the slide. Though the water it quite clear, these obstructions were obscured by the rushing whitewater. My first go, I barely cleared the lip and couldn’t get my legs in front of me. I rode the first half on my knees, then finally got oriented just before landing in the rocky, waist-deep pool at the bottom. Rode it three more times for good measure, and was obviously having a ball. After a few minutes, nearly a dozen spectators joined in the fun.

From there, it was just a few quick hours to the Bark Bay Hut, my accommodations for the evening. I’d been tempted to do the whole trek in a day, but the timing of the tides at Awaroa Inlet made that infeasible, which turned out to be wonderful, because it set me up to slow down and just enjoy the walk rather than blast through it. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love my ultra hikes. Slowing down sometimes is also a really nice change of pace. I arrived at the hut to find a yard full of tents and a bunkhouse packed with trampers. Feeling a bit overwhelmed by all of the people. Feels lonely being in a bustling crowded place without a traveling companion. Solitude doesn’t bring that loneliness up, but I guess seeing connections around me triggers my own longing for the same.

February 7, 2018

START: Bark Bay Hut @ 0635
FINISH: Wainui Inlet @ 1605
DISTANCE: 36 + 2 km
CUMULATIVE: 246 km

Got up and out around daybreak to make sure I had plenty of time to breeze across Awaroa Inlet within the suitable low tide window. The walk this morning was really stunning, and I loved the descent into Awaroa with the sun still hanging low in the sky. There was more a sense of wilderness this morning, as I saw very trampers between my start and the crossing. Seems there aren’t too many folks who are keen to tramp over 13 k’s before 1000. Fine by me!

Within the first few k’s after crossing Awaroa, I’d run into over a dozen other walkers, including a couple from Denver. Shannon was wearing a Colorado baseball cap, which is how I spotted them. Both she and her partner, Jin (I believe) were absolutely delightful. We stopped and chatted for a while before I pressed on. (I was anxious to get to Wainui Bay and hopefully catch a ride at least to town tonight.) I haven’t met very many Americans during my three weeks here, so it was cool to meet a couple from my transplant state. Should’ve swapped info, but I didn’t think of it. I’ve really loved meeting so many cool and interesting folks while walking and hitching around this beautiful country. Kiwis are well-known for their kindness, and all of the other visitors I’ve met so far seem to have followed their lead.

Arrived at Totaranui late this morning to discover another community with car access and hordes of camper vans, homes, and a DOC office. I’d already passed through a few coastal neighborhoods, Anchorage Bay and Awaroa Inlet, which were both quaint and inviting, seeming to fit easily with the ambiance of the overall walk. Totaranui felt somewhat different, more like an attraction and less like a community. It jolted me back to the so-called real world and interrupted my backcountry bliss. It felt like the time I climbed Mt. Evans and arrived at the peak after hours of verticle to find people stepping out of their cars right there on the summit. Perhaps there is a hint of entitlement there too, like “What are you doing here? I earned this experience.”

Naturally, I feel conflicted. On the one hand, I love that places like this are accessible for so many. On the other, I wish beautiful places like this would remain relatively pristine. It’s the cornerstone of their charm, I think. All that said, Mt. Evans is a bit of a sacrifice the way that I imagine Abel Tasman is a sacrifice. (Actually, “decoy” is perhaps a better word.) It draws the inexperienced and ill equipped away from true backcountry while allowing them to still see special places. National Parks in the US are a prime example of such a compromise. Those incredible places were my gateway to wilderness. It’s been nearly a decade since my tour of dozens of national parks, and since then I’ve become a veteran long distance hiker and competent outdoors person. We all have to start somewhere, and anyone seeking that solitude and competence should be met with open arms and support by the outdoor community.

Anyways, moving on. The crowds thinned out a bit beyond Totaranui. In fact, I really didn’t see all that many people from there to Wainui Inlet, at least not compared to the first half of the track. I enjoyed lunch on an open stretch of golden beach in Analai Bay. When I finished, I couldn’t resist the lure of the breaking blue-green waves. The Tasman Sea is truely majestic. The waves were considerably bigger than I’d consider swimming in. (Full disclosure: open water freaks me out.) Instead, I sat in the break and let the cold waves rush over me, teasing me out to sea as they receeded following each rhythmic crash. Again, I was the only one in the water. No shame in my game, y’all.

Arrived at the Wainui Inlet carpark around 1600, and arrived in Takaka an hour later thanks to a pretty quick pickup by David, who is an English bloke who wasn’t wearing any clothes. He pulled off and said “I’d give you a lift, but I’m not properly dressed.” I just laughed and told him I didn’t care if he didn’t, then he had me hop in. Pretty funny, actually. I really enjoyed talking to him. It didn’t take long before it came up that I’m from the states, and he asked the million dollar question: “So what do you think of Trump?” Without even considering that he could be a supporter - he looked to be in his right mind - I fired back “He’s the great shame of America, a toddler masquerading around as a man.” He just laughed and agreed, then we spent the whole ride to Takaka bashing him. I hate that that’s the burning question when I meet citizens of other nations, and I can understand their curiosity. I still don’t know how it happened; it still doesn’t feel real. But then I remember that I do know how it happened. Trump pushed rhetoric that was rooted in fear monquering, self-interested nationalism, and empty promises to rollback half a century of painfully slow forward progress. And most of the reasonable citizens in our great nation didn’t take him seriously, because honestly- who would? Our own arrogance to think that we’d come so far, that’s what brought us to this. Anyways, that’s been a fun recurring conversation during my time abroad. (Don’t worry, I asked him about Brexit...tit for tat and all that, haha.)

From Takaka, I was surprised that I was able to string together two more hitches, both characterized by much more light-hearted conversation, to get me all the way back here to Nelson, just over 36 hours since departing to start my tramp. Gonna do some errands tomorrow, then hitch out to Picton in preparation for my water taxi out to Ship Cove, the start of the Queen Charlotte Track and northern terminus of Te Araroa on the South Island. So close!